“Hey, Mom, how are you?”
“Oh, fine,” and I hear her voice lift as she smiles because someone called her.
“So, what are you up to?”
Her response will be one of two things. She may be in the activity room playing cards, working on the jigsaw puzzle, or working on an art project with the activity director. However, she might be in her room working on a puzzle in one of the puzzle books I have sent her. Then she will say, “Thank you so much for keeping in touch with me.”
“Mom, I try to call you every day to make sure you are well. So, what is your weather like?”
She will look out the window and let me know what she sees. It is almost amazing at how she can make the weather sound so exciting. Of course, she will ask about the weather where I live and after I tell her, she will repeat the weather report she just provided me a few minutes ago. Then she will say, “Thank you so much for keeping in touch with me.”
“That’s okay, Mom. So, what is scheduled the rest of the day?” She will not know so I will tell her to look at her schedule. I will tell her the date and the day of the week and she will then tell me what events are going on the rest of the day. “Well, good, Mom, those sound like things that will be fun.”
“Oh, yeah,” she will reply, “And thank you so much for keeping in touch with me. So, what are you all going to do tonight?”
“We will just stay in and watch a little television. I don’t think there is anything going on.”
She will reply, “How nice that you have some quiet time together. Thank you so much for keeping in touch with me.”
“No, problem, Mom. I will let you get back to your activity and will call you tomorrow, okay?”
“Good, that gives me something to look forward to,” she responds, “and thank you so much for keeping in touch with me. Tell everyone I said hello.”
“I will, I love you.”
“I love you, too, and thanks so much for keeping in touch with me,” she will say again.
“No problem, bye now – love ya.”
“Bye, and thanks so much for keeping in touch with me. Bye,” and we will hang up.
And I have this conversation every day with my mother. As you can guess, she suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease and we were forced to move her into a facility that could help her as the disease progresses. This is the only conversation I will have with my mother. There will come a time that she will not be able to even have this simple conversation. But, while she is able to manage this short dialog, I will call her every day just to hear her voice.
But, I really miss our conversations. Before her memory became so bad, I would call her each night on the way home from work. We would talk for thirty minutes about her day, my day, updates on my brothers and sister, current events – anything that came to mind. She was intelligent, funny, witty, and downright interesting.
And as a mother, she instilled in me so many leadership qualities that I carried with me into my twenty-year career in the Marine Corps though her no-nonsense approach to raising her children. I remember these lessons.
- I have an older brother and a younger brother who are so different than I am (I often wondered if I was adopted). So, when we were young, we would often argue over what we were going to play. If one of us ran to Mom to complain, all three of us would receive a spanking and then be told to go outside and work it out. I learned that it was better to compromise and work together rather than face the consequences of demanding I get my own way.
- Education was important to my mother and she stressed that we had an obligation to ourselves to do our very best. A’s and B’s were the acceptable grades but a C with the teacher’s comment that I was working to my potential would have been okay since that remark would indicate I was giving my all. I learned that no matter what endeavor I chose to undertake, I must always give my very best.
- We lived up north. When it snowed, my older brother and I were required to shovel the sidewalk in front of our house and the sidewalk of the neighbors on each side because “they shouldn’t have to shovel snow when I have two strong boys who can do that.” We were not allowed to take money from the neighbors – only hot chocolate if, and only if, they offered. I learned that I should be willing to do for others without ever expecting anything in return because it is the right thing to do.
- My Mom ensured I knew how to clean a house, wash dishes, do the laundry, iron my clothes, create a budget, pay bills on time, and create a schedule to get everything important done. This made me completely capable of taking care of myself when I joined the Marine Corps. I learned that being in a position of leadership means I have an obligation to teach others so they can grow as a person and as a leader.
- My Mom always listened. I remember my friends wanting to spend a Saturday night at my house so they could talk to my Mom about their girlfriend problems. I would watch as she sat quietly and was attentive to everything being said. Then she would ask leading questions that would help them come to their own solution to their problem. In this manner, she was teaching all of us how to solve the challenges we would face later on in life. I learned that leaders listen and guide their team to the answers. This intimate approach helps your team grow more independent and able to tackle big problems with the logic necessary to find the best solution.
I miss the amazing woman who raised me and helped me become the man I am today. But, shortly, I will call her. We will have the same conversation we have every day because I know that someday, I will have her phone turned off because she won’t be there to answer. But she will live on – because I taught my daughters – I taught my Marines – I taught anyone willing to read my body of work – these wonderful lessons I learned from an exceptional leader who went by a very special name – Mom.